“This is good,” I thought to myself about two minutes after swapping seats with my drive partner and settling in behind the wheel. “This is extremely good.”
Ford’s brand-new High Performance Package for the 2020 EcoBoost Mustang makes this ponycar significantly more appealing than the standard model. Its all-around excellence might even be enough to persuade some die-hard V8 enthusiasts to swap cylinders and displacement for technology and a turbocharger.
I went into this drive program with fairly low expectations. The EcoBoost Mustang’s mainline 2.3-liter force-fed four-banger is a fine piece of engineering in its own right, delivering reasonably swift acceleration and commendable smoothness with better-than-expected fuel economy. Unfortunately, it sounds despondent when worked even moderately hard and doesn’t deliver thrilling top-end performance.
Luckily for sports-car enthusiasts Ford had an off-the-shelf solution to these issues: the engine leftover from the dearly departed Focus RS!
More Than Just a Tune
This high-performance powerplant is largely the same as the standard 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine, though, naturally, important changes were made in order to turn up the wick to 350 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque for duty in Dearborn’s hottest-ever hatchback. For instance, the cylinder head is made of a different aluminum alloy, there’s a unique head gasket for improved sealing and to withstand greater boost pressures, plus it’s built in Valencia, Spain instead of Cleveland, Ohio.
For use in Mustang duty, a few other changes were implemented. The block has new casting bosses so the engine can be mounted longitudinally in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle and there’s a twin-scroll turbo that’s slightly larger than what you get in the standard EcoBoost Mustang.
In this equine application the RS’s engine cranks out 332 ponies and 350 pound-feet of torque when fed premium fuel. If you’re wondering why in the world there’s an 18-horse deficit compared to the RS, here’s the answer. Product-development peeps weren’t concerned about a maximum peak figure like they were in the Focus; this application was all about enhancing the car’s fun-to-drive factor.
A standard 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine runs out of steam at about 5,500 rpm, but the one found in Mustangs equipped with the High Performance Package pulls vigorously all the way to 6,500. In fact, 90 percent of peak horsepower is available at redline. Peak torque is limited to 350 pound-feet because the drivetrain can’t safely handle more than that, though trust me, that’s still plenty of twist.
Interestingly, plumbing into and out of the engine remains unchanged so the manufacturing and packaging engineers didn’t have to alter anything; the engine drops right in. For customers, it means components designed to fit the standard EcoBoost Mustang should bolt right up to this high-performance model.
For extra zing and a sporty sound, a driver-adjustable active exhaust system is standard fare, exhaling through quad tips.
Helping manage all that extra power are brakes borrowed from the even more potent Mustang GT. Up front, 13.9-inch rotors are squeezed by four-piston fixed calipers.
Under the hood you’ll notice a new alloy strut-tower brace for enhanced handling. A 32-millimeter diameter stabilizer bar keeps the front end planted even in aggressive corners while a 21.7-millimiter unit operates at the rear.
Visually separating these Mustangs from the herd is a blacked-out grille with an iconic tri-bar pony emblem. The front fenders are adorned with special badges that were inspired by the checkered-flag insignias used on the Hi-Po 289 model from decades past. Magnetic Gray mirror covers and hood stripes add more excitement.
This High Performance Package is offered on any version of the EcoBoost Mustang, from the most entry-level variant on up; it’s also available on both coupe and convertible models. You can even choose between a six-speed manual transmission or a 10-ratio automatic. The price for all this wholesome goodness is a reasonable $4,995. This means you can drive home in one of these upgraded Mustangs for as little as 33 grand and change.
Further honing the car’s responsiveness is an available EcoBoost Handling Package. For an additional $1,995 this gets you things like semi-metallic brake pads, a Torsen 3.55-to-1 limited-slip differential and wider 19-inch tires wrapped in Pirelli P Zero Corsa4 summer tires. A larger diameter solid rear sway bar is also included. But the most significant enhancement bundled with this separate options group is the inclusion of MagnaRide adjustable dampers, which dramatically alter how the car behaves, enabling you to have a track-day-stiff ride or one that’s luxury-car smooth for weekday commutes.
With all these upgrades, why didn’t they just call it the Mustang ST? That seems like a better fit in the rest of Ford’s lineup. Well, it turns out they eschewed this nomenclature because they didn’t feel it was appropriate for the Mustang, which is already available in nine high-performance variants. With nameplates like the Edge and Explorer, ST models serve as the singular performance variant.
My day started in a Magnetic gray-colored Mustang fastback with an automatic transmission and optional Recaro front seats, which were surprisingly uncomfortable. Anyone of even moderately husky build will not like them. Unless you’re hitting the track regularly, skip this $1,595 extra.
Hustling down the winding mountain roads around San Francisco, California quickly demonstrated this was a true driver’s car. The handling characteristics proved to be quite lovely, with sharp steering, a firm brake pedal and more front-end bite than a Rottweiler. With fewer cylinders and consequently less mass at the prow, EcoBoost Mustangs should feel a touch sharper and more balanced than a GT model with its huskier V8.
But, and this is a caveat worth your consideration, what the five-oh does deliver that a small-displacement turbocharged engine simply cannot is a soundtrack that matches this car’s fun-loving nature. There’s simply no circumventing physics, escaping the raspy noises produced by a four-cylinder engine.
Despite the standard driver-adjustable active exhaust system, High Performance Package-equipped Mustangs don’t sound particularly good. Louder, yes, but better? That’s debatable.
Four settings are offered for this exhaust arrangement including Quiet, Normal, Sport and Track. The last two are, obviously, the most vocal, though they seem equally loud. Normal provides fewer theatrics but, oddly enough, Quiet was my preferred setting. In this mode the car still lets its voice be heard – it’s far more assertive than a standard EcoBoost Mustang – but it doesn’t drone or clatter like the louder settings.
The 10-speed transmission in that Fastback model I started with was pleasant enough, though it would not be my first choice. It doesn’t feel like a particularly good match to the Mustang’s engine, it seems like there are too many ratios and it can’t pick the right one. Also, in the normal driving mode, downshifts are regrettably slow to manifest as you roll on the throttle.
That reworked Focus RS engine is an astonishingly good little propulsion unit, able to rocket this ponycar from a standstill to 60 miles an hour in the mid four-second range. That’s a certifiably fast time by nearly anyone’s measure.
As promised, this engine is incredibly linear, with torque delivery that’s free of any surging, sagging or peakiness. It pulls with authority right up to redline, feeling much more like a naturally aspirated powerplant than you might expect.
After lunch, I swapped into a Mustang convertible, one fitted with the six-speed stick. This makes for a lovely drivetrain combination. The shifter is precise and unexpectedly airy, encouraging you to keep stirring the transmission even if not required. The clutch pedal is forgiving and lighter in weight than you might expect for a car so potent. I’m sure this combination is appreciably slower than automatic-equipped models, but it doesn’t matter because it’s delightful, the larger spaces between gears adding a bit more drama to the drive.
The Verdict: 2020 Ford EcoBoost Mustang High Performance Package
Ford’s High Performance Package is a welcome addition to the Mustang lineup, making the car even more appealing. This options group bridges the chasm between the base version of this car and the V8-powered GT, offering thrilling acceleration, more excitement in the looks and sound departments, and likely better handling than anything else in the range that doesn’t wear a Shelby badge.
first published on Autoguide